Big Three Apparitions of Mary: Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe

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Fatima Apparition of Mary

Our Lady of Guadalupe: In 1531 a peasant named Juan Diego claimed to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary in a the fields in Guadalupe near Mexico City. She asked that a church be built in her honor and for Juan Diego to gather flowers on a hillside, which he did. He placed the flowers in his cloak and afterwards an imprint of the Virgin Mary appeared on it.. There have not been any thorough scientific analyses of the so-called Our Lady of Guadalupe miracle and no one has provided a convincing explanation of how the painting-like image got there and how it has been preserved so well. [Source: Tia Ghose, Live Science, July 9, 2013 /+/]

Fatima: In 1917 in the fields near Fatima, Portugal, three shepherd children said the Virgin Mary appeared to them, telling them a miracle would occur on October 13 that year. Thousands came to witness the event. Around Noon on a rainy day, the sun appeared to turn into a spinning disk that spiraled toward the Earth. Newspaper reporters onsite reported the event. The church added the miracle to its list of officially-recognized miracles in 1930. Skeptics have point outed that the effect could have been a sundog — a patch of light that appears near the sun — or noted that not everyone there that day saw the miracle. /+/

Lourdes: The original miracle at Lourdes occurred on February 11, 1858 when a 14-year-old illiterate peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous, who was out collecting firewood with her sister and a friend, said she heard what sounded like a gust of wind and then saw a girl with a blue sash around her waist, a yellow rose on each foot and rosary beads on her arm, in the grotto.

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Fátima, Portugal is one of the world's most famous Catholic pilgrimage spots, along with Lourdes in France and Guadalupe in Mexico. Honoring the Virgin Mary, it attracts millions of pilgrims each year, many of whom march on their knees for almost a kilometer across an asphalt mall that once covered a pasture where three young shepherds had a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1917. [Source: Jane Vessels, National Geographic, December 1980]

Some of the pilgrims wear knee pads; others carry children on their shoulders to increase the burden; and others still burst and into tears and wail with emotion as they pray. At the small chapel at the end of the mall, pilgrims can be seen wrapping their swollen ankles and bruised knees with bandages.

To honor the Virgin and the children, pilgrims burn life-size wax effigies of children and the Virgin Mary and light candles to commemorate the vision. On ordinary days people go to the chapel and melt wax legs, arms and other body parts in an effort to get miracle cures for the corresponding body parts.

Miracle of Fatima

Lucia Santos, Francisco Marto and Jacinta

The reported miracle of Fatima began in a quiet pasture on May 13, 1917, when three young shepherds — 10-year-old Lucia dos Santos and her cousins 9-year-old Francisco de Jesus Marto and 7-year-old Jacinta de Jesus Marto, from Aljustrel, a small hamlet near Fátima — looked up from a sand-castle-like stone house they were building and saw "the most beautiful lady they had ever seen...more brilliant than the sun" appear above a small oak tree. The lady told the children: "Recite the Rosary — a devotion to the Virgin — to bring peace to a world at war, and make sacrifices for sinners who have no one to pray for them." She promised the children to return on the 13th day of the next five months and then disappeared. [Source: Jane Vessels, National Geographic, December 1980]

Each month on 13th the lady appeared at the oak tree. Each time Lucia could see her, walk with her and talk to her, Jacinta could see her and Francisco could only hear her. During one of her visits, she showed the children a vision of Hell and warned against the perils of Communism. News of the vision attracted increasingly large crowds to Fatima for each scheduled vision. A "large number of people" showed up on July 13. Maybe 30,000 were there on August 13. On October 13, a crowd of 70,000 surrounded the shepherds, who saw the Virgin. She reappeared briefly and told the children to raise a chapel in her honor.

Describing the final vision, Lucia wrote: "The Lady said, 'I am the lady of the Rosary.’ And opening her hands, the Lady made them reflect on the sun, and while ascending her person reflected off the sun itself." No one but the children saw her put most people there reported that a bright light appeared and "the sun seemed to dance and whirl closer to earth." Three times the sun spun and danced and three times it stopped and then hurled towards the crowds, scaring them, before returning to its original place in the sky.

After the Miracle of Fatima

Later a chapel was built over the oak which was stripped for relics after the sightings. The peasant grassroots movement that developed after the sightings was at first viewed with skepticism by the government and the Catholic church. The Vatican generally tries to discourage miracle worship but later it recognized Fatima as well as Lourdes. Around 1,500 "miraculous cures" have occurred at Fatima, most of them before a medical investigation bureau was established at Fatima in the mid-1920s.

In the her second visit the children reported asked the Virgin if they could go to heaven. She reportedly told Jacinta and Francisco they would come "soon" but Lucia would come later so she could "establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” Jacinta and Francisco died of respiratory diseases during a worldwide influenza around two years after the miracle.

Newspaper article about Fatima

Lucia dos Santos entered a Catholic school in Porto five years after the sighting and entered became a nun, entering the Carmelite Order in 1928. She lived most of her life in seclusion as a nun and wrote an account that detailed the Virgin's request for prayers for the conversion of Russia. She died in 2005 after spending most of her life in seclusion at the Carmelite convent of Santa Teresa in Coimbraa, Portugal, where she had lived since 1948.

Each day the virgin appeared is honored with a pilgrimage. Of the six pilgrimage dates, May 13 is by the far the largest. It draws as many as 300,000 pilgrims, many of whom participate in a candlelight procession that precedes the Midnight Mass on the 13th.

Pope John Paul II attributed his recovery after the attempt on his life in 1981 to Our Lady of Fatima. The bullet that was lodged in the pope's stomach was placed in a golden set on the head of Virgin’s statue in Fatima by the Pope himself. The assassination itself was later revealed to be the “Third Secret of Fatima,” a carefully guarded secret that was kept hush for decades. The Virgin Mary reportedly showed the children an “angel with a flaming sword” and “a bishop clothed in white,” who the children said they believed was the “the holy father,” who “half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow” reached the foot of a cross and is “killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him.”


Lourdes (near Tarbes and reached by Toulouse or Biarritz) in southern France is the home of Grotto of Massabielle, where a famous Vatican-sanctioned miracle occurred in 1858. It is the most popular Roman Catholic pilgrimage destination in the world after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Visited by around 5 million people a year and located in the foothills of the Pyrenees where the Gave de Pau River joins an old canal, the cave contains altars with statues of the Virgin Mary and walls lined with tiny crutches and blackened by the soot of millions of candles. Along a 60-meter path water from the grotto's miraculous spring is dispensed from small spigots.

Around the spring is sprawling park with chapels, hospices, infirmaries, libraries and auditoriums. The Basilica of St. Pius X is one of the world's largest churches. Completed in 1957 at a cost $5.6 million, it is a three-level neo-Byzantine church that is 200 meters long and has a capacity of 13,000 people. An additional underground basilica has room for 7,000 more.

The main draw, other than the spring-feed baths, are small cubicles where the sick, crippled and terminally ill immerse themselves in hopes of a miraculous cure. There are also two hospitals that care for but don't treat the sick. About 20 percent of the visitors to Lourdes are people seeking a miraculous cure. Many people are very sick, enfeebled or dying. Many are in big blue armchairs on three wheels pulled by nuns and nurses. Most of these people wash in the sacred waters and worship in the basilica. As of 1999, thousands of people said they had been cured at Lourdes but of these only 66 had been authenticated by the strict standards of the Catholic church, which include medical proof that the person was indeed sick before the miraculous cure and the symptoms disappeared within several hours and lasted for several years.

Among those cured were Mademoiselle Dulot, who was cured of stomach and liver cancer in 1925 and went from being unable to eat or take liquids to having a ravenous hunger; the 22-year-old Margerie Paulette, cured of tubercular meningitis in 1929; four-year-old Francis Pascal, cured of blindness and paralysis in 1938; and Guy Leydet, cured of idiocy and paralysis in 1946. When Rose Martin was cured of uterine cancer in 1947 she said she felt her organs moving around inside of her at the moment of her cure. In 1998, a man suffering from multiple sclerosis who was cured on 1987 was recorded as the 66th miracle at Lourdes.

Miracle of Lourdes


The original miracle at Lourdes occurred on February 11, 1858 when a 14-year-old illiterate peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous, who was out collecting firewood with her sister and a friend, said she heard what sounded like a gust of wind and then saw a girl with a blue sash around her waist, a yellow rose on each foot and rosary beads on her arm, in the grotto while the other girls were on the other side of the canal. St. Bernadette was canonized on December 8, 1933.)

Soubirous later said, "I lost all power of thought when, turning my head towards the grotto, I saw at one of the openings a rosebush, one only, moving as if it were very windy. Almost at the same time there came out of the interior of the grotto a golden cloud, and soon after a lady, young and beautiful, exceedingly beautiful, the like of whom I had never seen, came and placed herself at the entrance of the opening above the bush."

Soubirous said the "lady" was 16 or 17 and dressed in a white robe with a blue ribbon tied around the waist and bare feet adorned with two yellow roses. She said that she could feel the presence of the a lady, who momentarily froze the girl's body. When Soubirous told her sister and her friend what happened. They laughed at her and called her an "imbecile and a bigot."

Soubirous disobeyed her mother and even the chief of police in her town and returned to the grotto and had a total of 18 visions over the next five months. On the ninth visit the lady told the girl to "drink from the fountain and bath in it." The girl said that the virgin caused a spring to start flowing from the cave and later wished for pilgrimages to be made to a chapel built at the site now called the Grotto of Massabielle.

On her 12th visit, accompanied by 20,000 people, the lady revealed herself by telling Soubirous, "I am the Immaculate Conception...I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the other." That year seven miraculous cures of the sick occurred at Lourdes. Soubirous spent the last 12 years of her life as a nun. She died in 1878 and was canonized as a saint in 1933 by Pope Pius XI..

Lourdes: the Miracle Factory

In the spring and summer throngs of tourist and Catholic faithful come to the the Grotto of Massabielle at Lourdes to wash themselves in the water which many believe has miraculous curing powers. Candlelight processions are sometimes held in front of the Chateau of Lourdes which also houses the Pyrenean Museum.

Pope Benedict XVI placing a novelty crown on Our Lady of Lourdes

Maureen Orth wrote in National Geographic: “Lourdes, the Virgin’s most famous pilgrimage site, is her miracle factory, with more than 7,000 miraculous cures claimed since the mid-1800s. Only 69 have been officially recognized by church authorities. Everything at Lourdes is about scale: more than a hundred acres, six million visitors a year, space for 25,000 worshippers in the giant underground basilica. It was built in 1958 to commemorate the centennial of the Virgin Mary’s first appearance, in 1858, [Source: Maureen Orth, National Geographic, December 2015]

The nearby Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, its stones worn by millions of feet, is where the Virgin is said to have commanded Bernadette to scoop up the mud with her hands to make a spring gurgle from the damp soil. That miraculous water is the source for baths that attract thousands daily in wheelchairs, and thousands more on foot, to pray for cures. Volunteers push les malades, the sick, in blue buggies in endless, snaking lines along Lourdes’s narrow streets, flanked by dozens of religious curio shops.

“The day I visited the baths, it was pouring rain, and cold. There’s a strict protocol for how you disrobe and then tie a light linen cloth around your body for a quick, private dip, supported under each arm by a volunteer. “Say your intention, make the sign of the cross, and we’ll escort you down,” a kindly Irish woman told me. Then came the freezing immersion — a bracing moment of deep peace.

“During the closing ceremonies at a giant Mass in the basilica, one of the European bishops, preaching in French, said, “World War III is already under way in the Middle East and Africa.” He praised the military there for focusing “on peace, justice, and human rights. May this experience make you witnesses for hope.”

“I thought of the indelible scene of the candlelight procession the night before — thousands of pilgrims, from places ranging from Argentina to Zambia, silently lifting their candles in prayer. It had ended with dozens of veterans in wheelchairs lining up in front, next to the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, for songs and prayers. So many souls yearning to be witnesses for hope, so many souls imbued with the belief that the Virgin Mary was lighting their way.

Virgin of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe north of Mexico City houses a small shrine which commemorates the appearance of a bronze-skinned Virgin Mary — the Virgin of Guadalupe — to a poor Indian in 1531. The Virgin of Guadalupe is Mexico's patron saint. She was sighted many times before the Catholic Church finally recognized her. One Mexican man told the Washington Post, "It means as much to Mexicans as life itself. Guadalupe is the start of everything. Our people, our country, our liberty. All of the Christmas fiestas begin with this."

The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (in the northeast suburb of Gustavo A. Madero) is the most venerated shrine in Mexico, and perhaps all of Latin America. In December 1531 the Virgin appeared three times in the form of an Indian princess before a poor Indian named Juan Diego and imprinted her image on his cloak. This vision was responsible for the conversion of large numbers of Indians in Mexico to Christianity.

To commemorate the event a large domed church was built in 1709 on top of a small hill where the event reportedly took place. The cloak has been set in silver and enclosed in the 27-ton silver railing in the middle of church's spectacular altar. And a chapel was built above a well that began spouting water after the virgin appeared. Scattered around the altar are thousands of metal arms, tiny crutches, images of the cloak and small plates offering thanks for miraculous cures, some of which date back to 1860, and other devotional offerings that have been left by believers, thanking the Virgin for her assistance.

The monument-lined avenue leading to the basilica is called the Calzada de los Misterios. Each year tens of thousands of pilgrims come to visit the shrine, many of them walking from their hometowns hundreds of kilometers to get there, and then kneeling and walking on their knees the last few hundred meters from a gateway of the church across a spacious courtyard to the entrance. Large processions are held on December 12th and midnight on December 11th.

The part of church was built on a slab of bedrock stands erect and proud; the eastern towers and adjoining chapel, situated on softer ground, sag to one side. There are seven other churches in the area and many of them list at funny angles. One was even made horizontal when one side of it was lifted over ten feet and then supported. Some residents of Mexico City say that the Mexican tourists in Italy never visit Pisa because "our own city is full of leaning towers." A new basilica has been built next to the old church, which was converted into a museum.

Importance of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Mexico

For centuries Mary — Our Lady of Guadalupe — has been Mexico’s patron saint, feted with a big fiesta on December 12. Each year thousands of pilgrims trek to her shrine. After days or weeks of walking, they offer thanks or pray for her help or blessing. According to tradition, Mary revealed herself to an Indian man, Juan Diego, in 1531. Speaking in Nahuatl, she produced roses in winter and imprinted her image on his cloak, miracles that led many indigenous Mexicans to convert to Catholicism. [Source: Maureen Orth, National Geographic, December 2015]

Maureen Orth wrote in National Geographic: ““Certain images and stories of the Virgin Mary are so powerful they help define a country. That’s the case with Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose image on the tilma, or cloak, of a poor Indian man gave rise, in 1531, to Mexican identity. Anyone witnessing the outpouring of love and devotion that pilgrims demonstrate for their beloved Madre on the days leading up to the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe — broadcast live throughout the country on December 12 — can see that the Virgin Mary is deeply embedded in Mexican hearts and souls.

“Her image was what Mexicans carried into their war against Spain for independence in 1810 and their internal revolution in 1910. César Chávez Marched with her banner in his fight to unionize farmworkers in California in the 1960s. Our Lady of Guadalupe conferred instant benediction on the once despised mestizo children of Spaniards and Indians. She is the symbol of la raza, the definition of what it means to be Mexican, and because of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexicans have always believed they’re special.

Miracle of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Virgin appears Juan Diego

On the morning of December 9, 1531, a 57-year-old Aztec Indian woodcutter named Juan Diego was walking past the barren hill of Tepeyac, which once housed a temple honoring Tonantzin, mother of the Aztec gods. Suddenly he heard the songs of a melodious bird and a woman’s voice calling him. He couldn't see the source of the voice because of the morning mists. He began climbing the hill and saw a 16-year-old girl with beams of light emanating from her head.

According to legend, accepted by the church, girl — the Virgin of Guadalupe — spoke in Nahuatl (the Aztec language) to Juan Diego. She told him that she was the Virgin Mary and she wanted a shrine raised in her honor on the hill and for Juan to run as fast as he could to what is now Mexico City and inform the bishop. Juan did as he was told but the bishop didn’t believe him. Juan returned to the hill and told Mary what had happened and she told him to try again. The bishop still doubted Juan but this time he told Juan to ask the Virgin for some kind of sign. Juan related this to Mary who said she would give him a sign the following day.

That night Juan's uncle became seriously ill and Juan was unable to meet with Mary as he arranged. When it seemed that the uncle was on the verge of death Juan decided to try and find a priest to give his uncle his last rites. On the way to find a priest he encountered the Virgin Mary. She told him to gather roses that had miraculously grown on the barren hill where the Aztec temple once stood and place them in his rough cloak — a tilma, believed to have been woven from agave fibers.. She told him to take the cloak to the bishop but not open it until he was in the bishop's presence.

When Juan Diego met the bishop he opened his cloak. The flowers had disappeared and on it developed an image of the Virgin Mary like an image on a Polaroid picture. On the cloak, Mary was standing on a moon, one of the symbols of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, and her eyes reflected what she saw. This is the only time Mary is said to have left a painted portrait of herself. At the same time Juan's uncle also saw the Virgin Mary and was immediately cured. The Virgin told him to tell the bishop that she wanted to called Sainted Virgin of Coatlaxopeuh. Coatlaxopeuh is another name for Earth Mother Tonantzin.

The bishop was convinced that a miracle had taken place, and the Virgin Mary had appeared, but when he heard the uncle's story he thought he said the "Sainted Virgin Mary of Guadalupe" and that is what he she has been called ever since." ,Juan Diego was canonized in 2002.

Our Lady of Guadalupe. Image

Maureen Orth wrote in National Geographic: ““Remarkably, the image hasn’t deteriorated, according to the church, even though the cloth hung in the basilica for more than a century without protection, vulnerable to dirt and smoke. “She’s imprinted like a photo,” says Nydia Mirna Rodríguez Alatorre, director of the basilica museum, who explains that in 1785 a worker cleaning the silver frame accidentally spilled nitric acid on the image. It remained intact. An affidavit from several decades later says that the spill left only a vague mark like a water stain. In 1921 Luciano Pérez Carpio, who worked in an office of Mexico’s president tasked with weakening the grip of religion, placed a bomb in a bouquet of flowers below the image. The blast destroyed the altar and bent its bronze crucifix and the candelabra nearby. The image of the Virgin was untouched. “When the devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe disappears,” Rodríguez Alatorre says, “the identity of Mexico will disappear. [Source: Maureen Orth, National Geographic, December 2015]

Virgin Mary on Juan Diego's cloak

Within the past several decades some church scholars have begun to interpret the visual imagery to be a combination of Catholic and what they consider to be Aztec iconography. According to such recent interpretations, an illiterate Indian would instantly be able to read the symbols as a nonverbal catechism. The dusky woman’s dark hair is parted in the middle, possibly symbolizing that she’s a virgin, but she wears a black bow high around her waist, a sign that she’s pregnant. Around her neck is a brooch — not the green stone Aztec deities often displayed but a cross. Her downcast eyes show that she isn’t a goddess. Similarly, her hands, clasped in prayer, also communicate that she isn’t divine. One of her legs is bent, suggesting that she could be dancing in prayer. The turquoise of her cloak signifies divinity and sky to the Aztec. The glyph of a four-petaled flower in the center of her rose-colored tunic supposedly means that she is the god bearer.

“Sometime between 1531 and 1570 the original image on Juan Diego’s tilma was embellished. Gold stars were added to the Virgin’s mantle, aligned, according to a Mexican study published in 1983, in their configuration at dawn on December 12, 1531, the day the image allegedly appeared on the tilma. The Aztec greatly revered the sun god, and glowing rays added behind Mary signify that she comes from heaven and that her god has divine power. One theory holds that in Nahuatl, the word “Mexico” comes from three words that mean “in the center of the moon” — and Mary is standing in the center of a black crescent moon. Borne on the shoulders of an angel who, some say, has native features, she dominates both light and darkness.

After the Miracle of the Virgin of Guadalupe

The bishop authorized the construction of a small shrine to honor the apparition. Juan Diego lived in a hermitage next to the shrine for the last 17 years of his life, until his death in 1548. The shrine and Juan Diego's vision were responsible for the conversion of large numbers of Indians to Christianity, and a domed church was built in front of a small hill where the event reportedly took place. Juan Diego was beautified by Pope John II in 1990 on his second trip to Mexico.

In 1709, a domed church was built to house the shrine. Every year on the Virgin's feast day, thousands of pilgrims arrive by bus, by car, by bicycle and on foot to see the shrines. Many of them kneel and walk the last few hundred meters on bloodied knees while singing and chanting. They end their pilgrimage by crowding into the basilica which holds 12,000 people.

In 1996, eight people died and 15 were injured during the pilgrimage to the shrine. One 60-year-old Mexican who had come from the United States died of a heart attack just three blocks short of the basilica; a 12-year-old boy on a bicycle was hit by a bus near the shrine; and six other pilgrims died when their bus collided with another bus. A total of 6 million people visited the shrine in 1996 during a four week period beginning December 12.

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Maureen Orth wrote in National Geographic: ““At dawn on December 11, the day before the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I drove southeast from Mexico City toward Puebla. Pilgrims were thronging in the opposite direction, toward the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the great shrine in the heart of the capital. Along the busy highway I saw people walking alone or in groups, packs of cyclists dressed alike, and numerous pickups flying by with flashing colored lights, artificial flowers, and statues of the Virgin wobbling in the back. [Source: Maureen Orth, National Geographic, December 2015]

“I pulled off the highway at a camp in the woods where pilgrims sleep at night on the cold ground. Mariachi music blared from portable speakers near a small fire. A breakfast stand had been set up, with free coffee, tea, and pastries. A volunteer told me that leading up to the Feast of Guadalupe, they feed 5,000 pilgrims a day here. “Mexico belongs to the Virgin, and the Virgin belongs to Mexico,” said volunteer Treno Garay as he ladled out coffee. Four generations of women from one family said they walk ten hours a day from the town of Papalotla, in the state of Tlaxcala, but spend nights in the family truck, driven by a male relative. A 77-year-old woman was making the trek from Santa María, in the state of Puebla, with her 19-year-old grandson. A truck driver who comes from California each year put it this way: “Everyone has to visit their mother.”

The next morning when I arrived at the plaza in front of the basilica, a steady stream of people of all ages — including Alejandra Anai Hernán de Romero, an 18-year-old mother clutching her sick seven-week-old baby, Dieguito, born with a kidney malfunction — were shuffling on their knees across the square, standing only when they entered the basilica. Many had tears streaming down their cheeks. Most I talked to said they were coming to give thanks: They had made a promise to the Virgin, and she had answered their prayer. In the basilica, behind the main altar, protected by glass, hung the original cloth image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, focusing the rapt attention of the faithful passing by on a moving walkway.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science,, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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